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Iran–Turkey proxy conflict

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Iran–Turkey proxy conflict
Part of the Syrian Civil War, Second Libyan Civil War, Arab Spring, Arab Winter and Kurdish–Turkish conflict
Turkey Iran Locator.svg
Location of Iran and Turkey
Date11 February 1979 – present
(42 years, 4 months, 1 week and 3 days)
Levant, Libya, Balkans and South Asia[19]


  • Turkish support for Iraq during the Iran–Iraq War
  • Conflict in Syria, Iraq and Pakistan; Iranian Shiite militias backing Syrian Government fighting Turkish-backed forces.

Houthi movement
ASALA (until 1981)[1][2]
Hezbollah Al-Hejaz[3]
23x15px Liwa Fatemiyoun[6]
Emblem of Liwa Al-Quds.svg Liwa al-Quds[7]
Emblem of the Palestine Liberation Army.svg Palestine Liberation Army[8]
Arab Nationalist Guard[8]
Free Palestine Movement[10]
Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba[11]
Kata'ib Hezbollah[12]
Liwa Zainebiyoun (Shia Pakistanis)[13]
Fatah al-Intifada[14]
Galilee Forces[15]
Syrian Resistance
Syrian Social Nationalist Party[16]
23x15px Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq
23x15px Badr Organization
Kata'ib al-Imam Ali
Libya House of Representatives
Turkish Alevis[17]
People's Protection Units
Kurdistan Workers' Party
Western Sahara Polisario Front


  •  Armenia
  •  China
  •  Cyprus
  •  France
  •  Greece
  •  India
  •  Republic of Artsakh
  •  Russia
  •  Serbia
  •  Venezuela
  •  Belarus

Libya Government of National Accord
 Syrian opposition
 Northern Cyprus
Syrian Turkmen Brigades
Muslim Brotherhood
Muslim Brotherhood of Syria
Grey Wolves
 Turkic Council
 East Turkestan
 Ba'athist Iraq(1979–2004)
 Chechen Republic of Ichkeria


Commanders and leaders

Iran Ali Khamenei
Iran Hassan Rouhani
Iran Eshaq Jahangiri
Iran Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf
Iran Esmail Ghaani
Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif
Syria Bashar al-Assad
Syria Hussein Arnous
China Xi Jinping
Russia Vladimir Putin
State of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas
Iraq Barham Salih
Iraq Mustafa Al-Kadhimi
Iraq Mohamed al-Halbousi
Houthi movement Abdul-Malik al-Houthi
Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah
Libya Khalifa Haftar
India Ram Nath Kovind
India Narendra Modi
France Emmanuel Macron
Murat Karayılan
Cemîl Bayik
Hülya Oran
Lebanon Michel Aoun
Lebanon Hassan Diab
Lebanon Nabih Berri

Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Turkey Fuat Oktay
Turkey Mustafa Şentop
Turkey Hulusi Akar
Turkey Yaşar Güler
Turkey Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu
Pakistan Imran Khan
Pakistan Arif Alvi
Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani
Qatar Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdul Aziz Al Thani
Libya Fayez al-Sarraj
Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky
Jordan Abdullah II
Jordan Bisher Khasawneh
NATO Jens Stoltenberg
United States Donald Trump
United Kingdom Elizabeth II
United Kingdom Boris Johnson
Israel Benjamin Netanyahu

The Iran–Turkey proxy conflict is an ongoing struggle for influence in the Middle East and surrounding regions between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Turkey.[19] In what has been described as a cold war, the conflict is waged on multiple levels over geopolitical, economic, and sectarian influence in pursuit of regional hegemony between the two countries due to different in interests; the conflict between Iran and Turkey has been sharpest in Syria, Iraq, the South Caucasus, and Libya, where conflicting interests between Iran and Turkey frequently lead to clashes between proxies of the two countries.[20] Both states are also motivated by a desire to become the dominant Muslim power in the region.[21]

Historical background[edit]

Unlike Iran's rivalries with Saudi Arabia and Israel, Iran and Turkey have been mainly stable neighbors. Until 1979, both Iran and Turkey were part of the Baghdad Pact, a US-sponsored anti-communist alliance to counter the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Both were considered reliable allies in United States foreign policy in the Middle East.[22] The two states also shared a Turko-Persian tradition and their relationship had been amicable.[23]

With the eruption of the Iranian Revolution and subsequent establishment of the Islamic Republic regime in Iran in 1979, the relationship between Iran and Turkey has changed to a more competitive and hostile one, albeit not at the scale of Iran's attitude toward Israel and Saudi Arabia.[24][25] The Turkish state provided support to Saddam Hussein's Iraq during the 1980s Iran-Iraq War, which resulted in enmity from the Iranian leadership.[26] This was later followed by the eventual conflicts between the two states in regard to the Kurdish-Turkish and Iranian-Kurdish conflicts, and most recently after the Arab Spring, when their multifaceted relations resulting in disputes over the Levant and North Africa, as well as the Balkans and South Asia.[27][25]

Frontiers of the proxy conflict[edit]

Iraq and Kurdistan Region[edit]

During the war between Iran and Iraq in 1980s, Turkey placed itself neutral on the war, but Ankara secretly provided goods for Baghdad, in exchange, Iraq sold oil to Turkey with a much lower price than it should be.[26] Turkey's quiet support for Iraq at the time had led to skepticism and distrust from the Iranian regime, which would set up the future confrontation between two nations.[26][24]

Although Turkey and Iran have also commonly opposed Kurdish separatism in Iraq, Iran has been accused of providing the Iraqi Kurds weapons and ammunition, while Turkey saw any resurgent Kurdish state threaten its territorial integrity and has sought to thwart it.[28][29][30]

Syria and Rojava[edit]

Relations between Turkey and Iran have deteriorated since 2011 when Turkey and Iran took the opposite sides in the conflict; Turkey took the side of Syrian opposition whilst Iran backed Bashar al-Assad in the conflict.[31][32][33] In addition, various Turkish proxies, some even with links to Sunni terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda, have fought against Iranian proxies in the country.[34]

In addition, when Turkey launched a number of military operations (Operation Olive Branch, 2019 Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria and Turkish military operation in Idlib Governorate) against the Syrian Government of Bashar Al-Assad and Kurdish forces, Iran condemned all the operations.[35][36][37] Iran, on the other hand, has also cooperated, in the back, with various Syrian Kurdish groups like People's Protection Units (YPG) and Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) at some extent, both viewed by Ankara as terrorist groups, hence the tensions as Turkish media frequently draw Iranian connection to PKK and YPG.[38][39]


When Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen began in 2015, Iran and Turkey had taken opposite sides, Turkish President Erdoğan stated that "Iran and the terrorist groups must withdraw" and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif replied "Turkey makes strategic mistakes".[40] Turkey has been accused of providing intelligence and aids for Saudi Arabia against Houthis, an Iranian proxy, in Yemen.[41]


Iran declared political support for Turkey on his backing and intervention on behalf of the GNA, however Iran have been also a backer for Turkey's opponent, Khalifa Haftar forces, who control the Tobruk-based House of Representatives.[42][43]

In July 2020, Iran expressed their support for Turkey and the GNA government in Libya, despite Russian and Syrian support for the LNA. The move could be considered as the beginning of a understanding between both regional actors.[44]

South Asia[edit]

Iran and Turkey had taken the side of Pakistan during the Kashmir conflict recently, however Iran's multifaceted role in Pakistan has been subject of criticism and distrust, as well as Iran's indecisive support unlike Turkey's open support for Pakistan, due to Iran's good relations with India, which is Pakistan and Turkey's main adversary.[45][46]

The reason for the deep distrust was due to Iran and Pakistan's open opposition in the 1992 and 1996 Afghanistan wars, as Iran backed the Northern Alliance while Pakistan backed Taliban; ironically Turkey issued minimal support for Northern Alliance due to presence of Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum but didn't involve to preserve the relations with Pakistan.[47][48][49] Therefore, since 2000s, Iran has sought to lure Pakistani Shiites to serve Iran's conflict, and many of them involved into war in Syria and Iraq against Turkish interests, inflaming outcries in Pakistan demanding the Pakistani authorities to investigate Iran's meddling in the country, despite Pakistan's expression on good relations with Iran.[50][51][52] This has also followed with Pakistan's alignment with majority of Turkish interests, such as conflict in Caucasus and Syria, which Iran was deeply appalled.[53] Likewise, Iran didn't react so supportive to Pakistan's request on bringing the Kashmir issue, complicated the relations.[54]

Involvements by nations[edit]


Pakistan has sought to preserve relations with both Iran and Turkey, but for most part, it has sided with Turkey against Iran, and this has often put Iran and Pakistan in confrontation as Iran doesn't demonstrate significant support for Pakistan and skeptical of Pakistan allying with Turkey, notably in the Caucasus and Syria, where Pakistan supports Turkey at the expense of Iran, and accusations that Iran is using Pakistani Shiites to fight for its wars abroad.[55][56][52]


France has taken the side of Iran due to its hostile relations with Turkey. Relations between Turkey and France have remained poor ever since France officially recognized the Armenian genocide in 2011, and significantly worsened after Turkey condemned what it believed was Islamophobia in France. While France is by no means an ally of Iran, the two have had decent diplomatic relations[57] and share interests in supporting Armenia in the Caucasus and the forces of Khalifa Haftar in Libya. Although Iran did accuse France of fueling Islamophobia, it refused to partake in the anti-French boycott that other Muslim countries, including Turkey, took part in.

United States[edit]

Since 1979, the United States has a strained relationship with Iran while Turkey is a member of NATO, which the U.S. is also part of. Although relations between Ankara and Washington have strained since 2010s, nonetheless the United States still seeks to preserve alliance with Turkey to deter Iran and Iranian expansionism, which caused criticism.[58] Turkey has opposed sanctions on Iran in recent years, while on the same times supports various American policies to counter Iran, notably the assassination of Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, which Turkey secretly approved to remove an Iranian threat for its ambitions.[59][60][61][62][63]


Russia has aligned with Iran while distrusts Turkey due to Ankara's alliance with Georgia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine.[64][65] However, by far, Russia has largely sought to preserve relations with Turkey as Turkey's increasing belligerent attitude unsettled the Western allies, as Turkey defied NATO's restriction to buy S-400 missile system while on the same time trying to include Turkey and Iran into a joint plan which would serve Russia's interests, as Turkey and Iran are also supporters of various Russia's ally, like Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro.[66][67][68][69]


The Kurds in Syria and Iraq have been mostly hostile to Turkey, and while they appear to be not that friendly to Iran due to Tehran's opposition to Kurdish independence, common cultural links make Iran's relations with the Kurds here easier and Iran often supplies weapons for the Kurds.[70][71][30][38] Thus, several time tensions between Iran and Turkey regarding the Kurds have also been counted due to Turkish distrust on Iranian supports for the Kurds.[72][38][30]


China has mostly had amicable relations with Iran and a more hostile relationship with Turkey due to Turkish support for Uyghurs and East Turkestan independence movement. Iran is one of the signators defending China's re-education camps while anti-Chinese sentiment has sometimes been expressed by the Turkish leadership.[73][74] China and Iran have also signed a 25-year strategic pact, which was seen by Ankara as a threat for Turkey's ambitions.[75]


Due to Turkish support for the Syrian opposition, the Syrian Government has a negative opinion on Turkey. There has been numerous military clashes and confrontation between Syria and Turkey.[76]


Qatar is an ally of Turkey and has a cordial tie with Iran due to ongoing diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia. Thus, Qatar mostly takes a balanced role to preserve its relations, although Qatar tends to favor Turkey before Iran.[77][78]

Saudi Arabia[edit]

Due to increasing hostile relations with Turkey as well as ongoing conflict with Iran, Saudi Arabia has largely sought to exploit the tensions between the two nations to incite further conflicts between Ankara and Tehran while empowering itself, and sided with various parties aligned to either Turkish or Iranian interests: example is Saudi Arabia backs Khalifa Haftar, who is also backed by Iran; or Saudi Arabia sided with Turkey in various phases of the Syrian Civil War.[79][80]


Israel's relations with Iran have been shut down since 1979 while Israel's relations with Turkey have worsened since 2010s, and thus, Israel is becoming less friendly toward Turkey and has criticized Turkey's expansionist ambition.[81] Nonetheless, Israel still maintains alliance with various countries and organizations opposing Iran, such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan (an ally of Turkey), and allegedly ISIS has sought to deter Iran while working to contain Turkey from expanding. [82][83][84] However, it has been reported that top Turkish intelligence officials have sought to improve relations with Israel before Joe Biden takes office in the United States.[85]


Although Jordan didn't take so much part in the conflict, however, Jordan has a mainly poor relationship with Iran whilst it has a balanced and friendlier relationship with Turkey.[86] Jordan has taken on the side of Turkey in most conflicts between Ankara and Tehran, in order to prevent Iran from encroaching into Jordan after experiencing what's going on in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.[87][88]

See also[edit]

Other articles of the topics Turkey AND Iran : Yakup Avşar

Other articles of the topics Iran AND Asia : Arab–Iranian conflict

Other articles of the topics Turkey AND Asia : Saudi Arabia–Turkey proxy conflict

Other articles of the topic Turkey : Afşin-C coal mine, Turkish Brazilians, Tarsus American College, Artuk Bey (character), Afşin-D coal mine, Afşin-E coal mine, Adana-Mersin metropolitan area

Other articles of the topic Iran : Ghiasabad, Ardabil, Suteh Zar, Mazraeh-ye Sadat, Amin Farden, Zarru, Akhtar Shah, Bahari language

Other articles of the topic Asia : Treasure 13, Shochiku Studio Co., Ltd., Shanghai, North Korea–United States proxy conflict, Enlil, 2020 United Arab Emirates explosions, China–United States proxy conflict

Other articles of the topic War : Saudi Arabia–Turkey proxy conflict, List of common World War II infantry weapons, List of last surviving veterans of military engagements, China–United States proxy conflict, North Korea–United States proxy conflict, Tunisian-Sicilian War, Russia–United States proxy conflict


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